Cooper Gallery, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, University of Dundee
05 October - 17 November 2001
The exhibition is open Monday-Friday 11am-8pm, Saturday 11am-5pm
The Alan Woods Bequest is an outstanding collection of contemporary artworks bequeathed to the University by the late Alan Woods. It includes artists such as Ralph Rumney, Susan Hiller, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Ian Howard, Will Maclean and many of Alan's students from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design.
Alan Woods collected with discrimination. The selection presented in this exhibition is a memorial to him but it also points forward, activating the life which the collection now has beyond his. The exhibition is comprised of three sections. First (and largest) is the selection of fifty-five works from the Bequest, plus smaller works in display cases. Secondly there are seven works by Alan Woods himself, and lastly there is a representative selection of publications that he either wrote or contributed to. The exhibition is displayed (generally) in 'clusters' of related work, to help clarify the various dimensions of Alan's interests. There is a group of six wall-mounted box constructions, three by Fred Stiven and three by Mat Fahrenholz, in contrasting styles.
Alan was deeply interested in the uses of text in art. He admired the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay, five of whose prints (with a work by Tom Phillips) form a group of text works. Close to these are two prints by R B Kitaj. Abstractions comprise a large element in the exhibition, shown in a formalist group (works by David Conneam, Callum Innes and Graeme Little) and in a group of less formal, more painterly abstractions, such as those by Moyna Flanagan, David Armitage and Ralph Rumney. The figurative works in the collection also suggest his appreciation of different styles, from the architectural towers of lan Howard and the 'technical drawing' of Stefan Wewerka, to the expressive works of Graeme Todd, David Davies, John Bellany and Will Maclean. The exhibition includes smaller works on paper and artists' publications in showcases.
Alan Woods was a lecturer in History and Theory in the School of Fine Art. He graduated from Cambridge University and taught in the School from 1989. Alan had a remarkably deep and broad knowledge of literature, aesthetics, visual art, photography, cinema, music and popular culture, which he generously shared with a generation of Dundee students (and, it should be said, with his colleagues, along with daily doses of unmatchable wit and good humour). Alan was a subtle and penetrating writer on art and cinema, his originality and insight expressed in a wonderfully flexible prose style that could catch every nuance of his thought. He never lost his romantic ideal that an art school should exist in a state of near-anarchy, driven by free creative work in (and beyond) the visual media, but (only seemingly a paradox), he passionately believed that knowledge of art and critical thinking were essential if a student were to make him- or herself into an artist. His wish was that the art of the past, which he loved, might be made as meaningful, inspirational and relevant to the students as the most contemporary work (in which he was equally interested).
Alan Woods was a collector of art, of books and of music. He was a hoarder, even. Very little ever seemed to be thrown away, as anyone who ventured into his flat in Leith could testify. Walls, cupboards, surfaces were filled with works of art, books, tapes and CDs, newspapers and uncountable notes of his own, in his characteristic sloping, illegible hand. The few flat spaces were likely to be occupied by coffee cups. Alan collected over two hundred and sixty works, mostly drawings, prints, paintings and constructions. Sculptures are few, and in this respect domestic limitations of space restricted his activities. More surprisingly, perhaps, although photography was an abiding interest (some of his best writing was on photographic subjects and he was himself an avid photographer of the everyday scene wherever he went), there are not many photographic works in the collection.
In all personal collections a dispersed portrait of the collector is preserved. Together the works offer a glimpse into the person who brought them together, who chose them rather than any others, and Alan's collection in this sense (for those who knew him) is suffused with his personality, his tastes and his interests; with his life, in short. The collection that he built up in little more than ten years was not that of a wealthy man. Most are contemporary works of moderate size. For all but the last two or three years of his life (when a modest family inheritance allowed him a little more latitude) his material means for acquiring artworks were limited, but he had more than the power of money to rely on. Certainly, if he liked a work enough he would buy it if it was at all possible. He also collected, judiciously, works by students and by artists in the early stages of their careers when they were relatively inexpensive, and occasionally bought from auctions. But he had other ways to get around financial limitations, ways which help to explain the nature of the collection and the artists represented in it. His greatest assets as a collector were his gift for friendship and his special quality as a writer on art and cinema. He collected the works of friends and colleagues in the School of Fine Art. These were often the fruits of what was possibly his favourite 'deal' - to swap a catalogue essay for a work. In this way he acquired works by Edward Summerton, Jim Pattison, Will Maclean and others. Similarly, for a number of years he maintained an 'account' at Peacock Printmakers in Aberdeen which was paid in this way, enabling him to collect works by (for example) John Bellany, who had made prints there. Thirdly, he collected works by artists with whom friendships had been often been initiated by the admiration of the artists for his writings on their work. These included Ralph Rumney, Tom Phillips and R B Kitaj. Finally, his work as editor of Transcript brought him into contact with artists, which opened up new opportunities for adding to his collection. His contact with Peter Greenaway, Howard Hodgkin and Susan Hiller came through this route.
Alan Woods worked in two main forms, collage and text. Many of Alan's early collages were assembled from magazine images and serendipitous pieces of 'telling ephemera'. Latterly he developed a quasi-formal style of collage structured by orange or silver squares of thin paper, with images and texts added. Several of his works were purely textual, which offered him opportunities for incisive conceptualisation and wit. In The Launching of the Argo, for example, each letter is progressively changed, like the Argo itself in which every timber was gradually replaced, so that the phrase, while remaining itself, is transformed into something new.
Alan Woods' first major publication was Being Naked Playing Dead - the Art of Peter Greenaway (Manchester 1996), a study which treats Greenaway's cinema in the context of visual art and art history (Greenaway considered it the best critique of his work). Not long before his death he completed The Map is Not the Territory, on the work of his friend Ralph Rumney, published posthumously by Manchester in 2000. He also contributed significant essays to publications on David Hockney and R B Kitaj. Alan wrote many exhibition catalogues for (among others), Howard Hodgkin, David Armitage, lan Howard and Jim Pattison. He contributed essays and reviews to the Cambridge Quarterly and other journals, and for several years wrote reviews for The Herald. As editor of Transcript he conducted interviews with many contemporary artists, including Joel Peter Witkin, Howard Hodgkin, Susan Hiller, Tatsuo Miyajima and Fiona Banner.
Text by Euan McArthur, School of Fine Art, DJCAD